Buckland Museum poised to reopen in midwest

Terence P Ward —  July 27, 2016 — 4 Comments

OHIO– The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick has been in existence, off and on, since 1966. But the collection, which was once featured in publications from the New York Times to the Scholastic Voice, hasn’t been publicly displayed since Jimmy Carter was president. Now two longtime friends of Raymond Buckland – the man who brought Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States – are trying once again to make an ever-growing collection of Pagan artifacts available to the public.

Buckland, circa 1960s, holding 250-year-old mandrake root [Courtesy Photo]

The museum’s heyday was its first ten years from 1966-1976. During that time, Buckland himself housed it on Long Island where he lived. When he moved to New Hampshire, he tried to keep it up. However, by 1980, he decided to put the collection in storage. He was much in demand as a lecturer and writer, and found himself unable to devote the necessary time to the project.

The collection remained in storage for close to 20 years. Then, Buckland made arrangements to pass it on to Monte Plaisance, whose intention was to reopen the museum in New Orleans. That, unfortunately, never came to pass. As The Wild Hunt reported in 2008, attorneys were retained to negotiate the return of the artifacts to Buckland. Since that point, there have been allegations that the collection was not returned complete from its journey to New Orleans.

We contacted Michael (Monte) Plaisance about the accusations. He said, in part, “When I returned the museum [collection], all of those items were accounted for and those documents were signed off by the mediating attorney, who took the collection and brought it to whoever was the next person to handle it. […] I wish the current curator/owner of the collection the best of luck with the task ahead.” Read his full response to the allegations here.

Rev. Velvet Rieth was the next person to try to take on the project. However, Rieth became ill, so Buckland sought other curators, which he found in Toni Rotonda and Kat Tigner. Buckland has said, “These two ladies have taken on a formidable task but are doing wonderfully well with it. I have absolute trust in them and am extremely grateful to them for taking this on.” Rotonda and Tigner spoke to us about their plans for the collection.

The Wild Hunt: How did the two of you come to own this collection in the first place?

Toni and Kat: The two of us, Kat and Toni, have been friends with Raymond Buckland for quite some time. Over the course of several years, we have had a number of conversations about the museum collection. Last year (2015), we were made aware that Reverend Velvet Rieth, the then-curator of the museum, had become ill and was unable to continue managing the museum. After much discussion and consideration, all parties thought it would be the best option to bring the collection back to Ohio for safekeeping. This has proven to be a monumental task, as the collection is extremely extensive.

TWH: What kind of background in Paganism do you have?

Kat: I have studied witchcraft and the occult since 1970. I was a solitary practitioner for over 30 years until I felt a strong need to connect with other Pagans. I started a Pagan website back in the late 1990s (there were very few back then) and began selling my own ritual candles and oils. In 1999, I decided to quit my lucrative government job to open a small “witch shop” called The Cat & The Cauldron in Columbus, Ohio. A risky endeavor, to say the least, but you’ve heard the old adage “build it and they will come.” Well, they came and business grew. I learned from Llewelyn publishers that Ray Buckland lived in Ohio, so I decided to contact him and invite him for a book signing and lecture at my shop. Ray initiated me into the Craft (his first initiate in 20 years), then became my mentor and close friend, which we’ve been ever since. We co-founded a coven together in 2005 called the Temple of Sacrifice which follows an Egyptian pantheon, but I still recognize and worship the gods and goddesses of many cultures today.

Toni: I grew up in an extremely diverse family in many ways. My great-grandmother was a Vodou practitioner. My maternal grandmother was an in-the-closet Hungarian gypsy. My paternal grandmother had holy water basins attached to several walls of her home (which I loved) and would walk around mumbling prayers with her rosary in hand. And my nanny, well, let’s just say tea leaves and tarot before breakfast was standard fare. I had a very colorful childhood, and for that I am very thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by the various beliefs of different populations, and still am. I have studied various religions and paths over the years, when finally, in 1999, I wandered into a little shop called The Cat & The Cauldron.

TWH: Do you have any experience with starting and running a museum?

Kat and Toni: No, but we certainly have some great guidance from Ray who started the original museum in 1968! We have been involved with and have had guidance from several other museum curators as well as historical societies. Ashley Mortimer, from the Doreen Valiente Foundation, has been instrumental in helping us with laying the groundwork. It has been comforting to work with a group that understands the importance of protecting the integrity of such a collection. We hope to work with them more in the future.

There is definitely a lot to learn but it has been an exciting and worthwhile project. We have each owned and currently own our own businesses and have a wealth of knowledge and guidance from many that are anxious to see this project up and running.

Crystal balls owned by Sybil Leek and Raymond Buckland, respectively [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What can you tell me about the Buckland collection itself that you own?

Kat and Toni: It is as diverse of a collection as one could imagine. When we originally received the collection from New Orleans in July of 2015, the items were not carefully packed or labeled in any way. There were large foot lockers filled with what could only be described as chaos. We had no idea who (and in some cases, what) these items belonged to, or their relevance to the museum. Many of the items were in pieces (in separate foot lockers), broken, or missing. It was very disheartening. Thankfully, because of Ray’s extensive record-keeping (thank the gods!), we were able to identify, catalog, and restore many of the artifacts.

Ray began this collection in the 1960s. Having worked for British Airways, it allowed him the ability to travel around the world to collect various ritual artifacts. Ancient Egyptian, African, Meso-American, and Australian Aboriginal ceremonial artifacts are among the many items in the collection. As we all know, Ray has been a beacon for many on the Pagan path. Because of this, Ray has met many others that have also been instrumental on the Pagan front. Individuals such Gerald Gardner, Monique Wilson, Sybil Leek, Aiden Breac, Israel Regardie, Patricia Crowther, Scott Cunningham, and Eleanor Bone just to name a few. These individuals as well as many others have donated some amazing personal artifacts to the museum.

TWH: Have there been any recent donations?

Kat and Toni: For the past six months, we have been communicating with a number of Pagan elders and teachers. It was absolutely no surprise to us that a number of these individuals that we’ve spoken to were close friends with Ray, some as far back as the 1960s. It’s been amazing to discover that long before the internet, these pioneers all knew each other even though they were spread all over the globe. They have all been extremely helpful and more than willing to donate something to the collection. Some recollect having seen the collection in the 1970s, and many have wonderful stories of the early days!

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [provided]

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [Courtesy Photo]

Recently we made a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. They had just released their latest book, Lifting the Veil, and were doing a workshop at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore. After the workshop, Janet and Gavin presented the museum collection with a beautiful wooden chalice. This chalice had been used by Stewart, Janet, Gavin, and their coven for many years.

They told us a personal story behind the chalice that most have never heard of until now. When Stewart passed away and after the funeral services, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in many of his favorite places. However, some of them were set aside. Their coven went to one of Stewart’s favorite places, cast a circle and held a funerary ritual. Stewart’s ashes were placed in the chalice and filled with a good Irish whiskey. The chalice was then passed around the circle and everyone got a drink of Stewart! We were very pleased and honored to have received such a personal gift to the collection

The hospitality that we had received from everyone in Atlanta was overwhelming, and we’ll never forget the time that we spent with Janet and Gavin (haven’t laughed that much in a long time).

Since we have started reaching out to the community, we have received some wonderful donations. Among them are Christopher Penczak’s original athame, handmade spell cords from Laurie and Penny Cabot, a chalice from Sam Webster and his coven the Crescent Hellions, a gorgeous headdress that belonged to Morning Glory from Oberon Zell, and Ray has recently included his original manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. [Ed: We have previously covered Oberon Zell’s similar effort to start a Pagan museum.]

There are also a number [of people] that we have spoken to that are trying to decide what best represents themselves and their path. This is an important decision. We have had extensive conversations with Phaedra Bonewits about what she would like to donate. She says that she has an idea, but is still pondering on what would best represent Isaac.

We cannot stress enough how important this process is for the museum collection. Expansion of the museum collection from donations is imperative to the preservation of our history. Without them, the history would be lost.

Oberon Zell donated items to the museum [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What’s your vision for what the museum will look like once it’s open?

Kat and Toni: We actually have Ray’s original blueprints for a larger museum project that he had planned, and it would be wonderful to stay as close to his vision as possible. The exhibits will walk the viewer through the history of witchcraft and magick, to the present day practices and blending of traditions.

TWH: When do you hope you can open the doors?

Kat and Toni: We have not decided on an exact date as of yet. We are still in the process of restoring some of the items and building permanent display cases. We do have an idea of a location here in Ohio, but we are still working on the details.

TWH: How is the museum to be legally structured? Do you own the objects personally, or is there some kind of board or other organization officially in charge? Are the donations tax-deductible at this time?

Kat and Toni: Currently we own the museum and are legally registered with the State. However, our long term goal (much like the Valiente collection) is to establish a foundation. We feel that it is extremely important to protect and grow the assets, and establishing a foundation with a board of trustees will keep the museum intact for future generations.

Unfortunately, no, donations are not tax-deductible at this time. This, as well as a non-profit status are in the works for the future.

TWH: Please provide all the ways that people can support this project, including financially and non-financially, such as item donations.

Kat and Toni: We have just recently started a [crowdfunding campaign] to help with costs. The costs of restoration, utilities, rent, insurance, application fees, [and] display cases can be overwhelming, so anything donated to the fund is greatly appreciated. There is also a donation page on the Buckland Museum website. We have had some wonderful feedback and contributions from friends, family and fellow Pagans who would like to see this history preserved. People can help in many ways by making a small donation, a large donation, or even just forwarding the information to their family and friends!

We would also like if people could share any memories or stories that they may have of the museum over the years. Along with this, we love hearing stories, tales, and anecdotes of the people that have been instrumental in this cause.

TWH: Do you have any criteria that you could share about item donations, or is it really on a case-by-case basis?

Kat and Toni: We would still like to continue to have as diverse of a collection as possible. Certainly anything that pertains to Pagan religions and traditions. We would also like to try to continue to display items from prominent Pagan leaders who have been instrumental in making Paganism what it is today.

TWH: Who would you like to see attending the grand opening?

Well of course we would hope that Ray Buckland will be there to cut the ribbon!

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.
  • Steven Bragg

    The museum did actually open in New Orleans for a brief time. It was on Dumaine St, just a couple lots down from the occult shop Esoterica. I saw it, but it didn’t stay open for very long.

    • Steven Bragg

      Here’s where it was in New Orleans, dated December 26, 2004:

      “Up Date:
      I have recently received a communiqué regarding the ‘Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick’, and I am pleased to be able to display it here for the benefit of my readers 🙂

      Greetings,
      My name is Brad Fuglaar. I am writing to inform you that the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick is re-opened. I am the General Manager of the Museum, and am in the process of trying to let anyone who is interested know that we are open.

      The museum is located in New Orleans at 523 Dumaine St. in the French Quarter. We are currently offering tours through the Museum: both guided and unguided. We can book private tours as well. Our phone number is 504-581-1457. We are currently in the process of putting together a web site for the Museum, as well as an information packet regarding what/where the museum is and can offer.

      I noticed your website and thought that you would like to know about the re-opening of the Museum, and also was wondering if you knew of anyone else that would be interested in our information.

      Best wishes.
      Brad Fuglaar.”

      http://www.bowlandcentral.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-22431.html

  • Polytheist

    Did I miss where in Ohio? I would love to go.

  • kenofken

    It’s a lovely idea, BUT…it has the old familiar feel of Pagan institutional endeavors that are very long on heart and passion and very short on money and business plan. This idea has had almost 40 years of abortive attempts and a pile of artifacts which has lay mouldering or broken from storage and moving and Hekate only knows how much money has been burned on storage fees, moving, litigation, what have you.

    I think before warming up for another run at it, there needs to be a fundamental re-examination of what this collection means and whether a museum is the best way, or an even remotely viable way, to preserve it. In concept at least, we value history and heritage and elders in our traditions, and that’s great, but the instinct is often to try to preserve the entire life’s work and collections of first-wave Pagan pioneers. That’s not realistic or necessarily even desirable for museum/preservation of heritage purposes.

    What story do we want this museum or collection to tell, and what items do that best? Careful curation is the difference between a true collection and hoarding. Telling the story of our movement does not require every cool piece of bric-a-brac ever owned by famous Pagans. I question whether all of the altar tools are even best honored by sitting under glass in perpetuity. They are not what witchcraft is about. They can help facilitate it, but their power, if you will, lies in their use in living traditions. Some of it at least probably ought to be put back in circulation for use in practice, either through careful lend agreements or perhaps even auctions, which could raise money to help preserve the more critical pieces of the collections. Objects, like people, have their own paths and purposes to fulfill in the world, and those can often transcend the lifetime of any one person. I don’t think “breaking up a collection” is always the unmitigated tragedy we make it out to be. I’ve come to think of myself as a temporary custodian for the things I own, and they sometimes stay with me for no other apparent purpose than to be passed on to the person truly meant to have them.

    Some of the collection may well be better served by going on loan to other institutions for the time being, rather than waiting in yet another storage unit for a someday museum. Maybe scholars like Ronald Hutton would love to have a glimpse of some of the stuff, or some of it could spend the near term, and perhaps longer, with the New Alexandrian Library?

    The goal of a brand-new stand alone museum for all of this stuff needs a very clear-eyed, skeptical and numbers-oriented examination. Opening and sustaining a museum is a serious challenge in the best of times, and post-recession America is the very worst of times for these sorts of things. A lot of museums have either folded, or cut back their hours and displays in the past six or seven years. And these were institutions with established funding and constituencies. Just getting the thing under a proper roof and open is going to take some solid six-figure number. Crowdfunding can be good for that sort of thing, but then what? Who’s going to come visit the thing, and then stay engaged with it after their first visit?

    Running a museum takes many sources of funding, and almost always has to include endowments, corporate and private donors and very often some form of public funding. None of those sources has been a growth area in recent years… Attendance fees never provide more than modest slice of operating expenses.

    I hate to be a naysayer, but I hate even more seeing well-meaning projects launch on a shoestring and then founder, which has been the pattern too often in our movement.